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Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

I have resisted the temptation to tell the Committee all about the difficulties of delivering mail to tower blocks and country mansions, and about the problems involved in bending down to letter boxes situated at the bottom of doors because I did not think those matters would be important to our proceedings. However, I think that the amendment before us is important.

This amendment will cover the points that we have only just discussed on the previous amendment. It is necessary to include what I would describe as a catch-all authority for the Secretary of State because I am worried about maintaining high standards of service in areas other than simple delivery and collection. I refer, for example, to the redirection service, the provision for people to collect their mail, access to hours of opening for sorting offices and so forth. These matters should be taken account when granting licences to operators who will be in competition with the Post Office and who may not wish to offer such services.

Detailed provision needs to be made for specialised services. For example, how many times should an operator attempt to deliver a letter? Will the Post Office still be obliged to make several attempts using form 739, or will they be able to say, "We've tried once, now it's too bad"? There is also the complex question of the redirection or disposal of undelivered mail that is held in sorting offices.

I think that this is a common-sense amendment because it provides for circumstances that may arise but have been overlooked. That would not be

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surprising, given the drafting of the Bill and the number of amendments being tabled by the Government. However, I shall again resist the temptation to be critical, save to say that I think we should look at this proposition very carefully and see whether the Secretary of State could be vested with a degree of authority in order to ensure that the necessary requirements are placed on the licensee.

Lord Bowness:

I support the amendment that has been moved by my noble friend. Can the Minister explain, when he comes to reply--and, I suspect, resists the amendment--why there is a fallback position allowing the Secretary of State to intervene in the case of modifications proposed by the commission, but not, as I read it, such a reserve power for the granting of the licence? I believe that I have interpreted the provision correctly, but I hope that I shall be put right if I have not. If that is the case, I shall certainly support my noble friend. It seems to me, if reserve powers are to be provided in order to deal with any modifications, that powers should also be in place to oversee the granting of the original licence.

Lord Skelmersdale:

My noble friend Lady Miller referred to a model licence which, I gather, was made available to Members of the Standing Committee in another place. My noble friend appears to be remarkably privileged. I do not know whether noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have received copies of the model licence, but I most certainly have not. It would be extremely useful to be able to see it.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Perhaps I may intervene. I did not receive the model licence. Indeed, in the debate on Second Reading I made the point that everyone else seemed to have seen the model licence--or rather, the draft licence--but that I had not. I said at the time that I wished I had been able to see it. Subsequently someone did send me a copy, but I do not think that it was circulated to all Members.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: A copy of the draft licence was placed in the Library of this House on 9th February.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I wished only to make the point that, although my noble friend thought that I had had a form of privileged access to the draft licence, in fact I had not. I raised the issue on Second Reading, but I cannot recall whether it was mentioned at the time that a copy had been placed in the Library. However, as I have said, someone was kind enough to send me a copy of a draft licence--which was indeed a rough draft and did not tell me very much.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am grateful for that information. I shall now trawl the Library in search of a copy of what my noble friend has referred to as the draft licence. Although I have not seen it, I would probably call it a model licence.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is called an outline of a proposed licence. I shall ensure that it is sent to every

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noble Lord who is taking part in this debate and, indeed, to all noble Lords who took part in the debate on Second Reading.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am extremely grateful to the Minister. From my point of view it is far easier if the noble Lord can arrange to send me a copy rather than having to search for it in the Library.

I think that my noble friend Lady Miller and my noble friend Lord Bowness, who is in his place behind me, are right to say that we should start these proceedings with some form of standard conditions, whether or not they are contained within the draft licence. It would be sensible for Parliament, especially in light of the fact that it has insisted on being involved in any changes to the standard conditions, to be involved in drawing up the standard conditions themselves, whatever form their initiation may take.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to specify general provisions which could be included in all licences or licences of certain categories and that the commission should have a general condition in every licence allowing it to amend a licence to include general conditions specified by the Secretary of State.

It may be that the intention here is to provide all licence holders with a level playing field and, on the face of it, that seems to be an admirable objective. However, I should like to explore the proposition a little more. I realise that a power of this type would mirror the situation in the Utilities Bill where the Secretary of State has a general power to impose standard conditions on a licence. The purpose of that is rather different, as those who are to take part next week in our debates on the Utilities Bill may discover. In those circumstances, the standard conditions could be varied by the Secretary of State without the consent of all of the licensees. In other words, if only a small minority, say, less than 10 per cent, objected to a change in a standard condition, that small minority could be overruled in the interests of the large majority. It is for that reason that standard conditions have been proposed in the Utilities Bill.

However, in reality the situation is not analogous. We expect there to be a far smaller number of licence holders in postal services than in the utilities. Indeed, it is more than likely, in the short term at least, that we shall see only one universal service provider.

However, we have made provision in Clauses 100 and 101 for the Secretary of State to intervene in the interests of national security to give directions, to ensure compliance with Community obligations and to comply with international obligations. Other than in those limited but important circumstances, we believe that the independent regulator should have the responsibility for licence conditions, including any general ones that the regulator might wish to stipulate.

We are dealing here with a situation where the first licensee of the commission will be the Post Office plc, in which the Government are shareholders. Because of

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that, we feel that it is far more likely that we shall achieve a level playing field between licence holders if the independent regulator is in charge of the licence conditions rather than the Secretary of State, who also represents the largest shareholders in the licensee. He would have virtually unlimited powers to intervene.

In the case of postal services, where the Post Office will remain in public hands and, we expect, will be a licence holder, we think that it is particularly appropriate that the roles of government as regulator and shareholder should be kept apart as far as possible. That is why we have set up an independent commission to deal with licence conditions.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, intended to create a level playing field here--she did not quite say that--I have every sympathy with that aim. However, surely the most effective way to deal with this is to leave it in the hands of the independent regulator.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The second part of my amendment certainly did seek to create a level playing field, thus ensuring that operators who apply for a licence later do not secure better terms than those who apply earlier. That essentially was the purpose of the amendment.

I have listened carefully to the Minister's remarks and I am grateful to him for telling the Committee that there is to be a general power for the utilities. As I mentioned earlier, I have not had the opportunity to research each individual case.

I think that what the Minister has said will be acceptable, but I should like to read the account to be entirely sure of that. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 9, line 26, after ("lie") insert ("or, in Scotland, be competent").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 28, 29, 83, 84 and 105. These are small technical amendments designed to ensure the Bill's compatibility with Scottish law, which I hope will not cause Members of the Committee any concern.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 83 simply add the Scottish legal equivalent of the term "lie" to Clauses 13 and 90 where no action shall lie in respect of licence holders or universal service providers. These corrections to the Bill make it correct for the purposes of Scots law.

Amendments Nos. 28, 29, 83 and 105 change the reference in the Bill to a penalty or charge being recovered as a civil debt by making it clear that recovery is to be by this method only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish law does not require the method of recovery of debt to be enunciated and these amendments will ensure that the Bill is silent on the method of recovery to be used in

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Scotland. The amendments merely bring the Bill into line with the normal practice with regard to the law in Scotland. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [References to the Competition Commission]:

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